Friday, May 4, 2012

A list of drab, dreary and desultory reads

I enjoy reading genre fiction, whether it be crime fiction, the family novel, campus novel or any other sub-genre. Over the month or so, however I have had some terrible luck in genre fiction resulting in a whole lot of crap being read by me. . Anyway so, here's a list of the works that I slogged through, in the hope that it may help other unsuspecting prospective readers from getting stuck. However it must be said the works I read were of pretty famous authors with lots of following, so bear in mind this is only a subjective opinion. These books were my first introductions to these authors and most probably the final ones too. The books are in the order of increasingly disastrous works according to me. 

Zero Day/True Blue - David Baldacci: David has seemingly got millions of readers and a huge oeuvre with multiple series running. These 2 books were stand alone and since they seemed to imply a kind of mystery I read them. Both have some commonalities, a crime occurs in the beginning (or has occurred) and the protagonists attempt to solve them. The crimes and settings initially seem ingenious, but as the novels progress settle down into a mundane rhythm, of action every few pages, a breather and then action again and so on till the end. But nothing really nail biting or even remotely exciting happens. I did however like the geographical settings of these novels and their description, one set in Washington with the wheeling and dealings going on in the corridors of power and the other set in the American South (Virginia). 

The ancient mystery/conspiracy sub-genre has gained a huge following after the success of Dan Brown. Thanks to him, there is a glut of novels coming out in this genre. In other genres there is always a mix of excellent, good, middling and poor works, but this genre seems to be stuck in rut in the last 8-9 years the 'Da Vinci Code' was published. I can recall javier sierra's 'The Secret Supper', 'The Rule Of Four' (Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason), 'Labyrinth' (Kate Mosse), ' The Dante Club' (Mathew Pearl), which were erudite thrillers.  I had earlier posted on this here. Some of these were published bit earlier than the 'Da Vinci Code'. The rule in these genre seems to be either to pick up a ancient mystery or a famous character from the past (Leonardo Da Vinci, Freud, Dante) and hope that the resulting book would sell well. The remaining books in this list all belong to this genre.

The vault of Shiva - Andy McDermott : This is again an example of the thought that an interesting premise alone is enough to rake in the readers. Andy has got a winner of an idea here, with the premise being the weapons that were apparently used in Ancient India, which are attributed to Lord Shiva (The Destroyer God). Being an Indian I could relate to this idea instantly and it got me excited, with obvious relation between Shiva and weapons of destruction. Another interesting thing was that the main antagonist was also an India, a guy who has developed a search engine that rivals Google and uses it to create a war. Wow, an Indian as the main antagonist in a western novel, this must surely be a first. However the novel was let down by casual plotting with a casual disregard for reader sensibilities and with the focus only on thrills, with some tit-bits thrown here and there regarding Ancient India. However among the books in this list, this is comparitively the best. Indian thriller writers wake up, the west is again showing you the mine of information we have that can be used in genre fiction. Amish Tripathi has made a start, but if we do not continue soon the western writers would overtake us.

The Mosaic Crimes -Giulio Leoni: A novel where Dante Alighieri investigates a murder. Very good premise again, what could be better than Dante, himself such a detailed descriptor of the various regions of hell, investigating a gory murder.  With turgid prose, events that actually should have happened at break neck speed appearing to happen in slow motion and an hasty resolution at the end, the novel was a damp squid. The author has tried to evocate an accurate picture of the time/location during which the events happen in Florence, but even that was not fully fleshed out. The inner turmoil of Dante, which could be seen as the precursor of his finally writing the 'Divine Comedy' was also brought out well to an extent, but that's about it. Reading the prose was like wading through a swamp with the sun beating down on you with no escape from either the sun or the swamp.

The Prophecy: Chris Kuzneski - Now we come to the worst of the lot. This novel is part of a series where two protagonists  Jonathon Payne and David Jones, find out the truth ancient mysteries, find out treasures. Payne and Jones seem indestructible with seemingly nothing in the world that can hurt them. They go from one sticky situation to another with a smile on their faces and a joke on their lips. Killing the villains comes naturally to them.The interaction between the two meant to illustrate the bonding between them is painfully forced and the (supposedly!!) lighthearted banter between them makes one want to puke. An oh, there is the mandatory damsel in distress, who gets caught in the events and who is the key to the whole mystery. She too joins the duo with no apparent misgivings, even though deaths are occurring left and right around her. The flirtation between the Payne and her also fall into the want to puke category. In fact this novel has the worst prose I have read in a long time, with lame ass jokes, repetitive phrases and general ineptitude in conveying to the reader any sense of urgency about the events in the novel. I am not being snobbish here when I talk about prose, but even in genre fiction there has to be some basic standard, right. Let me give an example. In the novel, I lost count of the number of times, the characters 'smirked'. Payne and Jones smirk at each other, they smirk at the lady, she smirks back at them, the villain too not wanting to be left behind smirks at them and Payne the near super-hero that he is, smirks back at him even at a time of great peril. There was so much smirking going on that I felt while reading that Kuzneski himself was smirking at all us readers who had been ambushed into reading this book.  What about the supposed prophecy that is said to be a great secret? Well if it had been like Umberto Eco and 'Foucault's Pendulum', I would have been tempted to term the secret and novel itself as a subversive take on the entire genre, but since it isn't and the author has apparently taken it seriously I just take it as an unintentional   joke. 

One could ask why did I go to the trouble to reading all these to the end when the simplest thing would have been chuck them away. Well, call it perverse masochism on my part but I can never leave incomplete the books that I just can't get through. Maybe I get a sense of closure but I just have to read them to the end however I may hate them. Conversely the books that I leave incomplete are the ones that intrigue me, engross me, stimulate me but remain just that bit out of reach to me, books that I want to complete, but whose doors are closed at point of time. These are the books that I give up for some time and pick up later to have another stab at them. A list of such books is here.

BTW,  'Foucault's Pendulum' is still the gold standard for novels in this genre (conspiracy/ancient mysteries) for it's sheer verve, erudition and audacity of thoughts even though Eco himself negates all these at the end in a devilish twist. Fans of this novel do not take is as blasphemy that I seem to term  'Foucault's Pendulum' as genre fiction, am  just pointing of that a novel written with no apparent regard for the boundaries of genre fiction still lords over most of the so called novels in this genre.

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